Recently we posted a GPS buyer's guide to car navigation systems by Rich Owings. I personally found it to be one of the most interesting and useful pieces, because it led me to Rich's site (GPS Tracklog) where he reviews not only auto systems but devices for hikers and bikers as well. There are also links to find the best deal to buy them online.
Being an analog and visual kind of guy (traits that have come in handy as an engineer), I still figure that a good AAA map is all I need in a car (although the latest car systems will tell you where to find restaurants, etc.) My GPS interest was in getting a handheld unit to help with hiking in New York's Catskill Mountains to find out-of-the-way places to photograph. Using information on Rich's site, I settled on one to order. (BewareI first went to the lowest price dealer who asked on the phone if I wanted the "U.S. model." Obviously I didto which he told me it would cost $40-50 more, and the one on the Internet was the "grey market" international device. I then told him he just lost my business.)
With a unit, I was now able to begin my quest to photograph a waterfall from the only spot that would provide a view of its full height (thanks also in large part to local history/hiking guru Bob Gildersleeve who gave me the GPS coordinates of the location). A window of only a few weeks in spring was available to get a picture, because once the foliage is out, the view is obscured. In the winter the slope of the clove (canyon) wall is too dangerous when covered with snow, and the sun is also too low for a good picture.
When I arrived at a nearby parking area in the state preserve, I couldn't find the landmark Bob had given me. So trusting my equipment, I started hiking in the direction my GPS indicated was the most direct route (with a nice big arrow). I quickly found the old railroad bed he noted, and then turned off this once I was opposite the point on the clove wall where I could view the scene. A beeping unit then indicated I reached the exact coordinates, from which I could look around and finally spot the falls through the trees. Needless to say, just a map and luck wouldn't have worked to find the location without a lot more time.
Able to secure some shots from crouching on a convenient ledge, I then folded up my gear and used the "breadcrumb" mode on my GPS to head out and take a parallel rail bed to my starting point, about two and a half hours from when I leftall-in-all a great day thanks to some sensitive chips, an antenna, and, above all, local knowledge.
On a final note, the unit I purchased has capability and options for auto usein case I decide to come further into the 21st century.